One week ago, I touched down in Barcelona tired and hungry, but eager to get out and start exploring. Upon arrival, I imagined I would love this city; that much has proven true. Despite the language barrier, I feel much more comfortable here than when I visited Germany two years ago, and I studied German for five years! I use the little Spanish I have when able (aka, when I feel confident enough to try): So far I have utilized it at the supermarket and to order food, but I get by with a little help from my Spanish-speaking friends when they are around. Over the next few weeks, I hope to become more fearless, further engaged in the culture and improve my confidence in Spanish by the time I leave.
Embarking on this trip, I expected living in a new country to present challenges. However, I anticipated more external challenges than internal, and that has not necessarily proven true. One of the skills we are developing in our program is acknowledging and understanding our biases, and recognizing how those biases influence our perception when we make observations. What I realized this week is that when you are familiar with something, you subconsciously make assumptions about it. An idea forms, a sort of predictable tendency, in your mind surrounding that thing. Assumptions are not always grounded in truth, no matter how true you may feel it is. To discover that truth, you must seek it out, which requires being vulnerable and honest with the situation, but first and foremost with yourself. What I have been learning is that it is okay to feel everything you feel – you should not suppress or limit your emotions, but grant yourself the liberty to feel everything, reflect, and respond without reacting. By doing so, you may gain clarity. At the very least, you allow a chance to be honest with yourself, and that is both healing and powerful in itself.
Moving somewhere new is no easy task. When I moved to Chicago from the suburbs of Metro Detroit three years ago, I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. Being in a new city, especially when you know maybe one person well like I did, can be lonely and scary. At times you may feel like you don’t belong, and that no one understands you or cares to know you at all. That is certainly how I felt until I put myself out there, got lost, got lost again, and found my way back. Throughout my time in Chicago, I have learned so much about myself, and I realize that there is still so much to discover.
Pretending to be a tourist in your own city may seem like a walk in the park, but it is actually quite awkward. Although I now consider Chicago my home, I was really self-conscious grabbing selfies throughout the city. I felt foreign, like I had no ownership of my place there. I am not one to take many selfies in the first place, so taking them in a public setting likely contributed to my general awkward-feeling. Taking these pictures in Barcelona, there was still a twinge of awkwardness at first, but I felt buffered because I was surrounded by other legitimate tourists who were all taking pictures too. When I took these pictures in Barcelona, I went with a group of people who were taking the same pictures, whereas in Chicago I went around the city by myself. I am sure going in a group helped ease any sense of discomfort – in fact, I had a great time! I got to venture around the city with people I was getting to know, and I have some great memories as a result. I am thankful to have gone around taking these pictures for this project because otherwise I would not have been as motivated to see these parts of the city.
I am missing the exact quote, but Karyn told us in class last Wednesday that by traveling and learning about the world, you are actually learning about yourself. I realize that just as it is getting to know someone new, getting to know a new city takes time, patience, an open heart and an open mind. There is no room for your baggage, so leave it at the door! In the same way, as I get to know Barcelona, I feel that I am getting to know myself, too. To that I say, “mucho gusto, Barcelona” – it is so nice to meet you.